The new year already is shaping up to be a busy one at the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.
The department’s Fisheries Division is working to jumpstart fish populations in Lake Cumberland and its tailwater in anticipation of the lake returning to its normal level in 2014, following a dam repair project which began in 2007. The division also is investing significant resources to add more fish cover to the state’s best muskie lake.
At the Wildlife Division, a new deer study launches this year along with continued research to bolster the state’s bobwhite populations. Here’s a look at what’s ahead for 2014.
Department biologists are partnering with two University of Kentucky graduate students to determine why the deer population lags in parts of southeastern Kentucky.
“We’re pretty excited about it,” said Tina Brunjes, deer and elk program coordinator with Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. “This is the first deer research we’ve done in the eight years I’ve been here.”
Researchers will fit 60 female deer in Clay County with radio transmitters then release the does back to the woods. The transmitters will enable researchers to track each deer’s movement and determine if it has given birth. Fawns produced by the does will be caught this spring and receive their own radio tracking collars. Researchers will monitor their movement for up to a year.
In previous years, Kentucky Fish and Wildlife has reduced the number of deer that hunters can take in southeastern Kentucky in an effort to grow the herd.
“What we’re trying to do is figure out why these deer herds are not responding to reduced harvests,” Brunjes said. “Right now the very popular thing to blame is coyotes. Another big one is poaching. Biologists tend to look at habitat issues: is there enough food? Is there enough cover? Do they have everything they need? We’re not sure which one of these elements or what combination of elements is causing these deer herds to remain very low and stressed.”
Lake Cumberland anticipation builds
The department is stocking more and bigger fish in Lake Cumberland and the tailwater below Wolf Creek Dam in anticipation of the lake returning to normal levels this year.
The prolonged drawdown was prompted by emergency dam repair work that started in 2007. While the lake remained low to help reduce stress on Wolf Creek Dam, bushes and trees that grew along its banks will provide good fish cover once it is flooded by the lake’s rising water.
“It will be almost like a new lake effect for the next several years,” said Fisheries Division Director Ron Brooks.
A project to improve and reroute Hatchery Creek downstream of the dam should get underway this year. Contractors will build a new one-mile channel featuring numerous pools and riffles extending to the Cumberland River.
Peabody quail project
A research project at Peabody Wildlife Management Area in western Kentucky is leading the way on the northern bobwhite quail restoration front.
The first four years of the project focused on habitat improvements and its effectiveness, said Small Game Program Coordinator John Morgan.
“The last two years are focusing more on harvest management,” he said. “We’ve really just started to see in the last year where we’ve really had a boom in the quail population. We had these incremental gains, but 2013 was the year where we finally got a nice boom in the population. Unfortunately, on one of spots where we didn’t do any work, they had a huge boom, too. That’s the nature of research in our profession.”
Cave Run Lake fish habitat project
The Fisheries Division this year will launch a major fish habitat project at Cave Run Lake.
“We’ve been doing habitat work for years in a lot of our lakes, but this is going to be the largest we’ve attempted,” Brooks said. “We’re talking about mile-long reaches – and about a half of a dozen of them.”
Submerged trees and brush being added to the lake will attract plants, microscopic life and forage fish. It also will offer haven for young fish. The department plans to add fish habitat to Scott Creek, the Shallow Flats Bank Fishing Area, Stoney Cove, Adams Point, Ramey’s Creek, Warix Run, Buck Creek and Poppin Rock.
If successful, the project could be a model for similar efforts in the future at other lakes around the state, Brooks said.
Kevin Kelly joined Kentucky Fish and Wildlife in December 2013. His journalism career has included stops at daily newspapers in Cincinnati, Ohio, St. Petersburg, Fla. and Charleston, S.C. He is an avid angler with a passion for muskellunge and stream fishing.